Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ode to DC

Today was my last day of work at the EPA here in Washington DC. I will soon be leaving to visit family in Virgina and back in St. Louis before I head out permantely with the Peace Corps. So I thought I'd offer some reflections regarding my one year public health fellowship.

I enjoy this area immensely. The people, the location, the culture is awesome and perfect for me. It provides me with easy access to other major cities: New York, Philadelphia, Boston for example. Yet, I'm also close to the beauty of the south: North Carolina, Raliegh/Durham, West Virginia, and am even close to beaches: Ocean City. DC is a place thriving with various cultures and people from all over the world. I've seen thousands of tourists during all kinds of weather viewing the great sites within this city. I've been able to experience the world class museums that are part of the amazing Smithsonian Institutue and have seen almost every kind of exhibit imaginable. I've hiked throughout this city, explored various aspects and neighborhoods and yet have still missed so much. I've learned a subway system so completely I don't even have to look at a map to tell you the line it's on or which direction to go. My work area is known to me like the back of my hand and walk along the streets automatically. The architecture, sites, sounds are all awesome and will be thoroughly missed.

My apartment itself was great, although a little further out then orignially planned, especially from the metro station. It was a studio, although technically considered an extended studio. It was amazingly lit with a balcony window and even had a small bedroom alcove so that the bed area was not immediately noticed when entering the apartment. It had a full kitchen and bath, complete with a dishwasher- which I've never had before. Central air and heat, pool and fitness room access, security guards, front and back key entry and floor to ceiling closets. It was a truly an amazing place. I really liked it, and it was right next door to a park and so I'd often hike through the trails. The deer, foxes, squirrels, and other neighborhood park animals will be missed. Speaking of animals I saw the world famous panda bears at the National Zoo- very cute and sweet.

My job, though, will not be missed, nor the endless amounts of bureracracy that is rampant in Washington. My job definitely did not turn out as expected and did not need someone with a Master's in Environmental Public Health. It had frustrations, times of enjoyment and lots of reading... but overall not anything that I want to do forever. It gave me a chance to see federal work and how committees, reports, and guidelines are formed. I have come to realize why it does actually take so long for change to occur and how tedious it can all be. My mentor was great and he taught me alot and allowed me to see certain sides of government. I learned more about ethics, and especially about human research ethics and know that this will be important in the future. I've expanded my knowledge regarding environmental awareness and project reviews, but althogether know it's not my future.

All in all, the place has been great for me, the job, not so much. Now it's time to visit family and friends before beginning the next stage of my life.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Separation starting

So this weekend has been an interesting one in terms of Peace Corps preparation. I have been studying the language, although have been getting extremely frustrated with Rosetta stone and the speaking section. My newest preparations were entirely unexpected and not planned and thusly, I think, are all the more valuable.

The first incidence involves modern human comforts: electricity. Over the last week the East coast was first hit by a wave of poweful storms then a round of extremely high heat- high 90s. Being naturally from the Midwest, St. Louis in particular, we are used to heat and humidity. However, the heat here came out of nowhere fast and secondly there is currently no real way to cool myself in my apartment. Why is this you may ask? Well because my air is not currently working because it runs on electricity. The previous storms that rolled through knocked out power to multiple places and have thusly affected me as well. The weird part of all this is that I have actual power- lights, but no cool air. or hot water at times. Others in my apartment complex don't even have lights... and sometimes I'll have half my outlets that work and the other half doesn't... so who knows. So basically since Friday afternoon I have been without cool air and intermitent hot water. Ironically I find it humorous because I'll be facing a very similar situation in Kyrgyzstan, although I believe they don't have air at all. So it's been a nice way to see how well I'll survive and for the most part I've been okay. The problem is that I am currently packing to move which makes everything seem hotter. Again, kinda funny. I may even do the whole Peace Corps experience and boil water for a nice warm bath.. then again probably not.

The second situation involved the Baltimore Aquarium that I went to on Saturday. Two wonderful girls from church took me there as a sort of farewell trip. We had a great time and I loved seeing all the different types of organisms found within the ocean- it's such an amazing place and so untaped and hardly studied... a science geek like me loved it. Anyways, we go to the gift shop and here's this souvenior shop filled from top to bottom with stuff. Most of it is just stupid nonsense stuff that is found in any specialized souvenior shop and I suddenly just became so disgusted and overwhelmed by this blatant display of consumerism and materialism that is so rampant in our society. I walked through rows of objects wondering why anyone would want to buy them, the incredible waste of production used to create these items and I left the store fairly soon. I watched people buying multiple gifts and found myself thinking, "Are the people your giving this to really going to care?" Probably not... they'll probably just throw it away at some time in the near future. Also does buying a souvenior make the trip any more memorable... on the contrary, depending on the gift.. no. Maybe it's just my brain beginning the necessary steps of culture separation or maybe it's a look into the future- a vision of what it's going to be like those first few months when I return. All I know was that it was definitely a unexpected place for a lesson.

Therefore, although this weekend has been harder than some weekends... it has all been great preparation for what's to come. The great thing is it hasn't really bothered me that much... definitely not as much as some tenants. The view of consumerism is something, I know, will grow and change and I may always view it differently. Human comforts are just that... comforts... and some of them can be lived without. Until next time...

Thursday, June 5, 2008


So lately I've found myself beginning to mix several languages. I took German for four years in high school and was an exchange student. Some of it I remember and most of it, sadly, not; however, at times, while studying another language words, phrases, structures, grammer rules will all pop up. Sometimes my very limited Spanish will creep in. So, what have I been studying hat has caused language chaos: Russian and Kyrgyz, yep two at once.

Since I'm going to Kyrgyzstan with the Peace Corps I figured it would be helpful to start learning some of the language, especially since both languages use the Cyrillic alphabet, which is very different from ours... the Latin alphabet. (Praise- I have successfully mastered the alphabet and know what the sounds are, pronunciation, symbols, and cursive derivatives- which my Russian tutor threw on me the very first meeting... ugh!). Since Kyrgyzstan is a former USSR republic Russian is the underlying language, although Kyrgyz is the official language. This is causing some confusion because, although Kyrgyz adds three other letters, I don't understand the difference. I assumed Kyrgyz was just like another dialect of Russian but it's not quite that. They have their own words for hi... Salam whereas in Russian its Privet (all words are written in English pronuciation.. not actual Cyrillic). They say good morning, and how are you differently so sometimes I wonder what the difference is and will I notice.

I've also noticed something else happening, which I understand is quite common... I've been inadverently mixing the two languages. I've been told most Kyrgyz people can speak and understand both languages but the Russians may not be able to understand the Kyrgyz... again not sure why. For instance, at my Russian lesson the other day my tutor wanted me to say some introductions and I said it in Kyrgyz instead of Russian... having not yet learned the Russian phonetically yet. She smiled and said no but was wondering what it was as it sounded similar but wasn't obviously Russian. It made me wonder if I had this experience in Kyrgyzstan if I would have been understood.

I also find language learning and teaching very different from what I had with German, and even somewhat from Spanish. With German we first learned letters, numbers, colors, days of the week, basic introduction... always with grammer mixed in and vocabulary. I haven't really had that too much. Sure I've had the alphabet and introductions but neither my tutor, Rosetta Stone or Peace Corps lessons have gone through the alphabet, letters or numbers. Even grammer isn't really explained. For instance, with Rosetta stone there's a grammer section and you say the word.. see it in a sentence then put the sentence together... that's fine... but what's the rule? Do nouns go first, verbs, etc? Seeing how the sentences get put together is one thing but if I don't understand how they're built, along with endings for nouns and verbs, singular and plural, then how can I speak the sentence correctly? Rosetta Stone is good in that it shows picture with words, has you speak, read and write, full immersion in other words... but I feel like they just jump you write into speaking, without going over basics. That's the same thing with the Peace Corps lessons. They don't cover the letters, numbers, grammer rules, etc. They just immediately jump in with phrases. How am I expected to speak correctly if I'm not taught how?

I know this is all preparatory work, that I get 10 weeks of in country training, where hopefully, this stuff is covered, but if not then I'm going to be so confused. I need to know how stuff is built, how it works, in order to properly understand. Maybe I'm just used to learning language the way I did with German or maybe I just don't understand how languages are supposed to be taught but teaching without grammer, without basic pronunciation skills, doesn't seem right to me. Oh well, I'll keep visiting my Russian tutor, doing Russian Rosetta stone, PC Kyrgyz and Russian and making my flashcards... while all the while wondering how to say a sentence...